After arriving back in Santiago from Easter Island I met up with Samantha again and we decided to have a cultural day visiting the memorial museum. This turned out to be an extremely depressing afternoon…albeit a free one…discussing the Pinochet dictatorship. We headed out that evening to a fish restaurant where we were given the biggest dinners ever, accompanied by pisco sours and a bottle of red wine. Unfortunately the next day was labour day, so everything in the city was shut. We went for a wander around town and met up with my friend Andrés who drove us to a really nice Italian restaurant for lunch. That evening I hopped on a night bus for my next stop…La Serena!
La Serena is the oldest town in Chile and has so many old churches it took a fair while to visit them all! I explored town on the first day visiting the old sites, the beach and the markets. Unfortunately star gazing tours were not possible due to the full moon 😦 so the observatories were out of the question. The following morning I went with a group of international students from Santiago university to Elqui Valley. About two hours by bus from La Serena, it is full of vineyards and more importantly pisco distilleries! The towns are really small and cute with little stalls and souvenir shops. After eating lunch and trying the local cactus flavoured ice cream capao, we managed against all odds to hitch hike with six of us in one car to the pisco distillery!! A lovely Chilean lady clearly took pity on us and we squeezed four into the back seats and two into the front seat. The Pisco tour was all in Spanish, which thankfully I could understand most of. The end of the tour was followed by tasting straight shots of 35% and 45% pisco…eugh..there is a reason why they put it in cocktails! Afterwards, we magically managed to again hitchhike back into town with six of us in one car (who said hitch hiking is difficult?) where we had some pisco cocktails (mine was Apple and ginger – yum) and a bite to eat before heading back to the hostel.
The next day it was time for me to board a bus on a 17 hour journey to San Pedro de Atacama! Arriving early in the morning, my first stop was the shower before heading into town to explore and find an activity for the day. The town centre consists of narrow dirt streets lined by tourist operator shops, restaurants and souvenir shops. After having some lunch with a Brazilian girl I met, I soon found a tour of Valle de la Luna for three pm that afternoon. Off I went to experience the most surreal landscape I have ever seen! Truly majestic with a mix of mountains, sand dunes and salt accumulations and absolutely NO plants or wildlife – definitely how I picture the moon! We toured around the park with seven of us and our crazy guide and sat to watch sunset over the mountains. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite show up on my phone camera, but the mountains turned mauve and red and created a spectacular view.
The following morning I was up early (4.30 am!!!) for a tour to some Geysers. At 4800m high, this was going to test whether I would suffer from altitude sickness! I had worn about five layers, including leggings and jeans, two pairs of socks, a hat, scarf and gloves, but nothing could prepare me for the minus ten degrees at the top! We arrived just as the sun was rising to see a huge field of geysers all steaming. After walking through the field we were greeted by a breakfast spread of hot chocolate (milk heated in the geyser), cereal, ham and cheese sandwiches and a selection of cakes, biscuits and teas. As the sun started to rise, some crazy people took a dip in the springs, but still being minus five myself and the rest of the group declined and sipped tea instead! A good choice seeing as we were told afterwards that the water was only tepid and not hot! On the way down the mountain we stopped to look at wild vicuña (llama family), various birds and a strange chinchilla cross rabbit animal. We also went to a small farming village where I ate llama on a stick…a bit like lamb but with a stronger flavour….I think I’ll try a llama steak!
Unfortunately my evening stargazing tour was cancelled due to cloudy weather. The next day I met two English girls (Milly and Deborah) and an Aussie guy Sean at my hostel and we decided to buddy up and book a three day, two night tour of the Bolivian salt flats for the following morning. Thankfully that evening the skies were clear and I could go on my stargazing tour with Jorge. It was a great evening, although a little cold! With only four of us on the excursion it was brilliant and unbelievably clear skies- I have never seen the Milky Way so clearly. Jorge started by explaining some basic astronomy, discussing constellations, showing us how to know where South is, how the original atacama people utilised the stars etc…after a hot chocolate break we moved onto the telescopes! We observed Jupiter with all four rings visible and the four moons, Saturn, phenomenal new star clusters and the moon! It was an expensive tour but definitely worth it! Exhausted and cold, I headed to bed ready for an early rise for my salt flat tour.